Derek Tharpe matched his career high with 11 strikeouts, but it was the Tennessee defense that let up for the second straight game as the Kentucky Wildcats posted a 4-1 win over the Volunteers at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday afternoon.
For the second straight game, Tennessee (22-16, 7-10 SEC) had a pitcher go the distance as Tharpe (4-4) logged his first complete game. He gave up four runs (three earned) and scattered eight hits.
The loss dropped the Volunteers to fourth place in the Eastern Division, a half game behind third-place Florida and two games behind first-place South Carolina.
Leading 2-1, the Wildcats extended the lead to 4-1 in the seventh on two Vol errors and two hits. Aaron Edwards began the inning by reaching second on a throwing error by third baseman Michael Rivera. Edwards took third on Joe Niall's single; Niall stole second before another throwing error by catcher Javi Herrera who, trying to pick Edwards off third, sailed into the tarp down the left field line, allowing both runners to score.
Brett Chappell, who drew a lead off walk and took third on Jordan Czarniecki's hit, scored on Michael Rivera's sacrifice fly in the third as the Vols cut the lead to 2-1.
Tharpe's outing on the mound Saturday may have been win-worthy, but Friday night's performance from Ben Riley was better. But there was no offense or defense behind him in a 1-0 series-opening loss.
Scott Wade hurled a five-hit shutout, and Kentucky plated its lone run - an unearned run - in the sixth.
Riley (3-3) also went the distance for the Vols as he turned his first career complete game. He did Wade one better by allowing just four hits, but he also walked four with six strikeouts.
Kentucky loaded the bases in the sixth on two Vol errors and walk, but plated the lone run on a sacrifice fly by Russ Rutherford.
Wade (2-4) struck out six in his second complete game of the season as the Vols mounted their only threat in the fourth, leaving runners stranded at second and third.
Game three was Sunday afternoon, but results weren't available at press time.
Lady Vols also struggle at the plate
Behind junior Jenny Gladding's second consecutive shutout, 23rd-ranked Florida completed a three-game sweep of Tennessee on Saturday afternoon with a 1-0 win in Gainesville, Fla.
The Lady Vols failed to cross the plate during the series as its losing skid reached five games.
On Saturday, Gladding only allowed five hits and registered nine strikeouts in running her mark to 18-9.
UF freshman Kristen Butler's two-out RBI single in the fourth off rookie pitcher Stacey Jennings proved to be the difference. The Gators (35-16, 16-8 SEC) continued their dominance over UT (39-18, 12-11) in the Swamp, running the series record to 13-1 in Gainesville.
Florida sophomore Nikki Baldwin's RBI double in the fifth inning snapped a scoreless draw, and sophomore Mandy Schuerman belted a solo home run in the sixth to lift the Gators to a 2-0 victory over Tennessee in the nightcap of a Friday doubleheader. Three Gator pitchers combined on the eight-hit shutout, with junior Amanda Moore (12-4) notching the win.
UT senior Stephanie Humphrey, who held Florida hitless for 4.1 innings, suffered her first pitching loss in 16 games - since Feb. 7 - to dip to 16-3 on the year.
Gladding had the type of game in Friday's opener that players often dream about. Not only did the Arizona transfer fire her third career no-hitter with 12 strikeouts against the Lady Vols, she provided her club's offense by belting her ninth homer of the spring with two down in the sixth off Jennings for the 1-0 final margin.
Tennessee will resume action on Wednesday night when it faces Virginia Tech in the seventh annual State-Line Classic in Bristol, Tenn., at 7 p.m. The Hokies have claimed the last four events after the Lady Vols won the first three.